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2023 theswiftrunner home header sepia

Mom and Ekstern

by Jeffrey Wintersteen

Ekstern is one of the most iconic stallions of the Arabian breed. Foaled in Poland in 1994 at a time when Poland’s influence seemed to be dimming on the international stage, he ushered in unprecedented success both for himself, Poland, and particularly his maternal stud of Michałów. Ekstern was both Junior and Senior Polish National Champion, as well as European, All Nations Cup and World Champion Stallion in 2000. In 2003 he won the Mercedes Diamond Cup, competing against previous World Champions to retire undefeated lifetime.

Before this fame, however, let Jeffrey Wintersteen take you back to one summer in Poland with his parents, and explain how his mom became one of Ekstern’s first fans. 

ekstern pastureThe day Bonnie Wintersteen met Ekstern.

It is June 1995 and I am standing with my parents in a pasture of 60 yearling and two year olds at Podlasie, the colt farm at Michałów State Stud. It was a wet spring and the grass reaches past our thighs. Since Podlasie is a 15- to 20-minute walk from the main stud, when mom took a shine to this steel grey yearling, rather than make the long trek to the stud and back, we decided to wait at the stable for the grooms to bring in all the horses so we could identify him. 

It was over an hour before the herd of youngsters came thundering down the corridors that the Poles use to move horses back and forth from stable to pasture. The charge slowed, then stopped when they saw three strangers waiting for their arrival. They would have returned to the pasture if not for the groom behind pushing them forward. After the initial hesitation, the herd spilled into the paddock between the barns, kicking and bucking with dust rising into the air. We waited for them to take turns drinking from the large circular trough in the center of the yard, trying in vain to catch a glimpse of our” colt.

Once each of the colts had a chance to drink, the grooms began to separate the herd, yearlings into the west end of the barn, two year olds to the east. The process went easier than I expected despite a couple of stragglers that would cause the grooms to shout a bit of Polish which produced immediate results. Within five minutes, 60 horses had been sorted into either side, then long poles were slid into position that secured them in the stable. The grooms then began to walk down each side, tying the colts beneath their corresponding nameplates. 

Only then did one of the grooms give me a slight nod, granting me permission to enter. I started down one side, tails and hindquarters pointed towards me with heads turned, eyes wide with curiosity. A bit of doubt began to creep in – I wondered if I could find him again, there were a lot of yearling greys. Any doubt was extinguished almost immediately, however, as I recognized him halfway down on the left. I still have the green spiral notebook where I scribbled, Ekstern - grey colt out of Ernestyna (by Piechur) and by Monogramm.” 

We asked the grooms to take him out, and they were happy to do so, proud to show him off. I snapped a picture of the groom standing him up for us. Later we would learn that he had won the Polish Spring Show a couple weeks prior. Michałów hosted three Spring Shows from 1993 to 1995 on a mowed paddock behind the mare barns. Since junior colts were not shown at Polish Nationals at that time, Junior Colt Champions at the Spring Show were considered Polish National Champion. Surely some Pole has a picture of Ekstern winning that day, but I have never seen one published. 


Before you judge my photography skill too harshly, I should explain it was with a 35mm Instamatic, the ones you load the film in the back, 36 pictures on a roll. Once you have clicked them all off, you drop the roll off at the local pharmacy, returning in a week or so to see the results. I took hundreds of photos this trip, dutifully recording each number with corresponding name and pedigree in that green spiral notebook so the horses could be identified later. That said, I wouldnt have needed the notebook to identify Ekstern, I remember it as if it were yesterday: the flagging tail as the groom trotted him, the warm sun on my back, and the smile on my parents’ faces. 

At dinner that night, mom asked Director Jaworowski if they would part with him. He smiled and politely told her Poland doesnt sell yearlings, but added in German, Sie haben guten Augen” (you have a good eye) to soften the disappointment. When we left a few days later, Mom asked Assistant Roma Skrzydlewska to let her know if Ekstern ever came up for sale, something we chuckled about year after year following his success

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Denise Hearst
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Betty Finke
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Cindy Reich
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Johanna Ullstrom
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Scott Benjamin
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Jeffrey Wintersteen
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